pen name

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pen name

an author's pseudonym

Pen Name


(also, pseudonym), a name used by an author or artist instead of his real name.

Pen names have long been used, for various reasons: to escape the censor’s notice, to emphasize a trait of the author or of his work, or to present the author as something other than he actually is (a literary mask). Other reasons have been the wish to avoid a noneuphonious last name, class prejudice, fear of failure as a writer, and the existence of other persons with the same last name. Pen names may be considered a type of literary hoax.

A number of authors have used many pen names in addition to the main one: Voltaire had more than 160 and V. I. Lenin more than 150. Sometimes pen names were joined to the real last name (M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin). Many pen names replaced the actual last name and became the name by which the author was known (Molière, Stendhal, Gorky, Lenin). There are also collective pen names, such as Koz’ma Prutkov.

There are more than 50 types of pen names or pseudonyms. Such names may indicate an author’s nationality (Lesia Ukrainka), his place of birth or residence (D. N. Mamin-Sibiriak), his social status, occupation, convictions, or character traits (Besposhchadnyi, “ruthless”), or the distinctive features of his work (Navoi, “melodic”). Pen names may purposefully indicate the wrong sex (George Sand), nationality (G. Apollinaire-Kostrowitski), occupation (the beekeeper Rudyi Pan’ko-N. V. Gogol), or disposition (Emil’ Krotkii [”gentle,”]-E. German). Some pen names are made up of elements from an author’s real first and last names (Il’f-Il’ia Fainzil’berg), and sometimes they are in cipher form: 200–1 (S. A.-Sergei Aksakov; M/f [Minaev]). Distinctive pen names are composed of an author’s initials or of his first name alone (Abai). An author may use an allonym; that is, he may assume the last name of another person (Pablo Neruda from Jan Neruda).

An author may choose a pen name according to his own discretion and may publish under different pen names. In the USSR, pen names are usually specified in an author’s agreement. As a rule, a pen name may not be disclosed without the author’s permission during the period covered by the copyright, except when the use of the pen name conflicts with society’s interests (for example, when it is used to falsify authorship).

In modern Soviet works, party pseudonyms are often termed party nicknames.


Masanov, I. F. Slovar’ psevdonimov russkikh pisatelei, uchenykh i obshchestvennykh deiatelei, vols. Moscow, 1956–60.
Masanov, Iu. V mire psevdonimov, anonimov i literaturnykh poddelok. Moscow, 1963.
Dmitriev, V. Skryvshie svoe imia. Moscow, 1970.
Dmitriev, V. “O psevdonimakh i ikh klassifikatsii.” Filologicheskie nauki, 1915, no. 5.


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